Telephone finance - dos and don'ts

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Car and home insurance, personal banking, savings and investment, share-dealing, mortgages, life assurance and pensions. Whether you have a frenetic lifestyle with no time to spare, or are a couch potato who can't be bothered to walk down the street, you can now manage all your finances simply by picking up the telephone.

If finance by phone is an idea that appeals, the good news is that the business is growing fast. Virgin has made a highly successful entry into the market, the mighty Pru joined the ranks a few weeks ago and only last week came the bombshell announcement of Sainsbury's Bank, which will combine telephone banking with kiosks and cash dispensers in-store.

The bad news is that it still takes time - time to work out what you need, to obtain several offers, and then to work out which is best for you. Try to follow these simple rules:

Do some homework before you start to call. Talk to friends and family, send for brochures, read a newspaper and perhaps a specialist magazine.

The first offer may not be the best, so it pays to shop around.

Today's cheap deal may not be so cheap in the longer term, so make sure you know what you're paying and what you're really buying.

If you're not sure you understand what's being offered, or how the numbers will work out, ask for them to be put in the post.

And don't be talked into a decision that you may regret later. If you decide not to go ahead, just say "I'm sorry, I don't think I'll bother" and hang upn

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